REVIEWER: Cedric Faulkner, business systems manager for Barr Systems, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Barr Systems, an ISO 9001 certified provider of high-performance data communications, printing and reporting solutions, has more than 40,000 hardware and software products installed worldwide across a wide range of industries. Its business growth is due in great part to the high quality of its customer service and support.

PLATFORMS: We run Applix iEnterprise using Compaq computers, a Microsoft SQL server and Windows NT.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We had been using an internally developed customer relationship management (CRM) application to manage our customer support, quality assurance and sales operations. This approach presented significant challenges. If we wanted to make changes to support our evolving business practices, we needed to use programmers. Users needed extensive training to learn how to navigate through the less-than-intuitive DOS interface. Service representatives were spending countless hours repeatedly troubleshooting the same or similar problems. As more and more service requests and other transactions came in through e-mail, we had to employ extra steps to process this information. The result was a system that was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, while not supporting the latest technologies. If this problem wasn't rectified, service would suffer. Because customer loyalty is key to our business growth, we knew we had to make a change.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Applix iEnterprise allows us to mount a coordinated effort to support a variety of customer interactions such as selling more products, servicing existing products or setting priorities for product enhancements. Service representatives can take over an existing case and immediately get up to speed on that customer's history so the customer doesn't have to repeat information. Our customers can update their own cases via e-mail or a Web template. Service representatives automatically receive e-mail notifications in the event they haven't solved a customer problem within a prescribed time frame. If a service agreement has expired, the service representative receives a notification as soon as the customer record is pulled up so the representative can advise the customer in real time upon receiving a service call.

STRENGTHS: iEnterprise was easy to install, use, administer and tailor to our needs.

WEAKNESSES: iEnterprise requires each user to have an account in the database. To streamline the process of setting up and maintaining separate user accounts, we developed some stored procedures that enable all iEnterprise users to connect through one database account while still alerting the iEnterprise administrator of any attempted security breaches.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We researched and reviewed 40 distinct CRM packages. For our business, we needed a solution that provides shared access to customer transactions between service, quality assurance and sales personnel; automates our internal help desk activities; provides low total cost of ownership through rapid deployment, ongoing tailorability without programming and ease of use and administration; has strong knowledge management capabilities; and supports unified capture of customer communications via phone, e-mail and the Web. We chose the Applix iEnterprise suite based on its unique combination of flexibility and user friendliness. We were looking for a product that was highly scalable, easily customizable and extremely functional. Many of the other packages were out-of-the-box and did not have any customizable capabilities. Other suites were flexible but had difficult user interfaces.

DELIVERABLES: Thanks to iEnterprise, we have increased employee productivity and improved customer satisfaction. Our customers now receive immediate answers for common errors. Because it was easy to install and is easy to use and administer, we're saving a significant amount of money. We're happy with our purchase, and we have seen a good return on our investment. Our next step is to integrate the iSales application within iEnterprise to further enhance customer satisfaction. We are also considering integrating Applix's real-time planning and analysis solution, iCustomer- Insight. This will help us drive smart business decisions in all operational areas of the company.

VENDOR SUPPORT: After only one week of Applix training, our in-house talent was able to implement iEnterprise for our internal IT help desk ­ and tailor it to provide the infrastructure for subsequent deployment in our support, quality control and sales departments ­ in only four weeks. We used the help-desk application within iEnterprise to manage the overall migration from our legacy CRM system to iEnterprise.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation was abundant and clear.

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